By Barb Arland Fye, Editor
Watching the sun rise on a beautiful Sunday morning during a road trip to Columbus Junction, I said a prayer of thanks. To add to the blessing, I arrived early at St. Joseph Catholic Church to cover a Byzantine Catholic (Eastern rite) service being celebrated for the first time.
Entering the church’s lower-level gathering area, I asked the three people in the room if they had seen Deacon Sergio Ayala who would lead the Communion service called a “Typika” at 8 a.m. They looked puzzled, but suggested he might be in the sanctuary. As it turns out, I was in the wrong church! The service was being held at St. Joseph Catholic Church in West Liberty — a 30-minute drive away! I had mistaken one St. Joseph Parish for the other!
I called my husband, Steve, on my smartphone to serve as off-site navigator to St. Joe’s in West Liberty. He guided me through back roads I never would have traveled for fear of getting lost.
Despite the apprehension of arriving too late, I couldn’t help but appreciate the beauty of the countryside. Rows of ripening corn that followed the winding road reminded me of Grant Wood’s painting of undulating hills braided with the crop.
At 8:20 a.m. I pulled into the church parking lot, scrambled out of the car with camera bag and knapsack and headed into the church to the sound of bells jingling and a congregant chanting prayers.
All of the materials needed to participate in the Typika had been placed in the back of the church, so I was able to follow along. Having talked by phone the previous Friday with Deacon Ayala, I also knew I had permission to take photographs.
I snapped away, especially fascinated to witness Eastern Catholics receiving Communion. Deacon Ayala bent over to give Communion by spoon to tiny children and then stood up to do the same for adults.
“Make mention that children of all ages receive (Communion),” said Ted Tenney, a convert to Eastern Catholicism who has a wife and 14 children. “We want our kids not to miss out on the grace for any amount of time.”
After the Typika, I joined the community for fellowship in the parish hall. Children and adults expressed gratitude for the privilege to celebrate in the richness of their tradition. The incense, the expressive chanting, the ringing of bells heightens their awareness of God in their midst.
“Just seeing them chanting and singing and having them talking about God a lot. I Iike that; we’re really blessed to have (the Byzantine Catholic community) here,” said Houston Tenney, 14 of Farley, Iowa.
“It speaks to my heart and my soul,” said Lynsey Kemner of Clarence. “It’s a part of me.” Her daughter Sophia, 9, says she likes meeting friends here.
“Our families all feel the need to live out our Catholic faith in the Byzantine way, and make it available to any and all who may want to live that expression of our faith,” Adam Kemner wrote in a letter to his bishop, Bishop John Kudrick of Parma, Ohio, for the Ruthenian (Byzantine) Catholic Church.
Whatever upset I experienced upon learning I’d traveled to the wrong church and would be late getting to the right one vanished upon meeting people so deeply in love with their faith tradition. That’s the direction God was pointing me toward as I wound my way along the corn-braided countryside.